135km (84 miles) NW of Paris; 89km (55 miles) E of Le Havre
Normandy’s capital buzzes from dawn ‘til dusk, thanks to its busy port and lively university. Its agreeable atmosphere invites leisurely strolls along medieval lanes, where some of Normandy’s most delicious produce sits temptingly in shop windows. Former celebrated residents of Rouen include writer Gustave Flaubert (who grew up along the city’s enchanting cobbled streets), Claude Monet (who endlessly painted Rouen’s Cathédrale de Notre-Dame), and Joan of Arc, who met her tragic end in the place du Vieux Marché, the Old Marketplace, in 1431.
Rouen suffered greatly during World War II when half of it was destroyed, mostly by Allied bombers. During the reconstruction of the old quarters, some of the almost-forgotten crafts of the Middle Ages were revived. Today its metropolitan area is home to half a million people, with about 100,000 clustered in the large center.
On Normandy’s Cider & Calvados Route
Normandy might not have the vineyards of other parts of France, but it does have endless apple orchards that produce the acclaimed Calvados brandy, refreshing alcoholic cider, and pommeau, a mixture of Calvados and apple juice. In the lush rolling hills of the Pays d’Auge east of Caen, producers open their half-timbered farms (mostly by appointment) to thirsty tourists eager to try the different varieties of apple nectar. Some of the region’s most delightful villages lie on this 40km (25-mile) Route du Cidre (www.larouteducidre.fr), notably Cambremer and Beuvron-en-Auge, the latter being one of the designated Most Beautiful Villages of France (www.beuvroncambremer.com). In 2018, Calvados Experience (www.calvados-experience.com; tel. 02-31-64-30-31; 12.50€ adults, 8€ children 6–17, free for children 5 and under; Apr–Sept daily 9:30am–7pm, Oct–Mar daily 10am–1pm and 2–6pm) opened in Pont-l’Evêque. This entertaining museum uses multisensory displays to show how the apple brandy is made, and also offers tastings.
Monet’s Garden at Giverny
Claude Monet spent the last 43 years of his life in creative contentment in his house and sprawling gardens in the Normandy village of Giverny, 75km (47 miles) northwest of Paris. It’s just as enchanting as when he lived there with his wife and eight children surrounded by colorful gardens and ponds decked with the water lilies and green Japanese bridge seen in so many of his paintings. Most people make the visit from Paris. However, direct trains from Rouen to Vernon (the nearest station) take about 40 min. and can cost as little as 7€ one-way when booked online in advance. From Vernon, you take a shuttle bus or bike to Giverny.